WEB TOOLS VERSUS SALES REPS
After years of talking about "consultative selling," most channel sales reps will still spend most of their time talking about products and promotions and tend to order cycle chores. Web commerce tools will rapidly allow customers to inform themselves on these topics faster and usually better. Then what will reps do?
Converting from product pushers in a territory to creators of bottom line value for customers on an unbundled for fee basis wonít be easy. Communicating value about products is a 150-year-old model around which entire channel cultures have been built. But, value-seeking end-users armed with new web tools and access to fast forming databases will demand and get both the lowest cost fulfillment service and only the customized, unbundled extra services they want from first-changing suppliers.
Consider the impact of the following web tools on the total shopping process:
- A global product data warehouse that offers all choices in a channel or category instead of what just one distributor might want to offer. For example, 4 million books on a database at Amazon.com is often better than 15 to 100,000 books at a bookstore searchable only by general categories and authorsí names.
- Ever more powerful, category-specific, search engines that find all of the relevant, current options on a 24 x 7 x 365 basis beats sales repsí standard suggestions or best guesses, if you can reach them.
- Drilling down for as much additional product information as desired is nice. Having the option to then e-mail the people that designed, made and tested the product at the manufacturing source could help. And perhaps reading mixed reviews from experienced end-users of products on-line could be even better. It turns out that most products arenít perfect or most suitable for as many people as traditional marketing literature and biased reps often have lead us to believe. Smart manufacturers will solicit this honest feedback as a source for creating new and improved solutions faster.
- If a product category has lots of different permutations for many different applications, configurators and simulators can be added. The configurators at web sites for Dell, Cisco, Ford, GM, BMW, and LandsEnd (for shirts) can offer many more permutations than most "consultative" reps can know or stay current with, especially when product changes accelerate in a digital channel.
- And finally if a web buyer wants human assistance, they will be able to request the medium of their choice with an "interaction center" that could be a network of individuals located anywhere on the planet. These reconceived service teams will have to be prepared to respond to higher level questions from more informed customers over a greater range of goods than in the past all on a 24 x 7 basis.
Leading edge, internet sellers have already spent millions to create the web tools and scenarios above, so that a first-mover in every channel will be able to afford them within the next 12 to 24 months for far less or on a variable cost, rental basis from e-service firms. How fast will our best customers be using one site to get educated, another to secure the lowest price on commodities to then give us last look? It has already happened to auto dealers. How and when should we begin to rethink our sales force and support staff to give customers whatever selling options they want before someone else does?
Merrifield Consulting Group, Inc., Article # 8.7